A musician’s guide to the universe

I found a recent question from a piano student worthy of thought; how did the great composers manage to come up with their musical ideas?

In a moment like this a teacher has to think on his feet.  First you rephrase the question.  How did Bach expand the naturally occurring harmonic system for piano on a clavier that was parent to the piano?  How did Debussy produce some of the most moving moments in ever the world?

They took standard musical constructs and invented something new.     

Maybe when we first step in to life we notice a childlike playground of kazoos and flutes.  There are many other playgrounds with, say, numbers or words.  Before each sweetheart there are paths that intertwine and intermingle.  Some children are innately attracted to the sounds of our particular playground.  They linger there, like Ted Williams on a ball diamond.  They get to really know their way around the place, and the very, very best of them contribute in ways innumerable.  Bake at 98.6 for millennia or so and that playground takes on the aspect of a universe.

Gentle bolts of aurora borealis attract attention.  There’s a choir over there, and look, Chopin just lit up to our left.  They are vastly too numerous to follow as individuals in a short lifetime.  Most of us just try to absorb some of it and then offer others a hopefully distilled portion as payment in kind.  Surprising musicians are everywhere. The very, very best guitar player I ever knew is out there; still sitting in a basement back east creating  an absolutely stunning tone through  touch and insight.

Bach might be the ionosphere that an aspiring musician should penetrate as deeply as possible in order to attain heightened awareness.  You know he still sits there today exactly as he did when he was three, inventing something on the organ and eternally willing to sit down next to you for a marvelous lesson in harmony.  Each Chorale is a treatise on the musically possible.

I sometimes think Debussy speaks sadly about the limits of humanity.  He wishes all things could be as beautiful as the world of music. It breaks your heart.  Just offhand I can name two of his works in which the melody ends with a simple descending passage of so  fa  me  re  do; the last vocalized measure of “Invocation” (for men’s choir and orchestra) and “The Little Shepherd” from Children’s Corner.  Any interested child can find those five notes right to left on a primary colored toy xylophone.  It’s where Debussy guides your spirit with only those primary colors that reveals genius -- the gentle and loving way he touches and tints each of those five notes as they fall into place.

Great thoughts lead to great inventions.

I should think this is true throughout all of the wonderful disciplines life has to offer.       

Michael James has been a professional guitarist and Public School music educator for over forty years

I found a recent question from a piano student worthy of thought; how did the great composers manage to come up with their musical ideas?

In a moment like this a teacher has to think on his feet.  First you rephrase the question.  How did Bach expand the naturally occurring harmonic system for piano on a clavier that was parent to the piano?  How did Debussy produce some of the most moving moments in ever the world?

They took standard musical constructs and invented something new.     

Maybe when we first step in to life we notice a childlike playground of kazoos and flutes.  There are many other playgrounds with, say, numbers or words.  Before each sweetheart there are paths that intertwine and intermingle.  Some children are innately attracted to the sounds of our particular playground.  They linger there, like Ted Williams on a ball diamond.  They get to really know their way around the place, and the very, very best of them contribute in ways innumerable.  Bake at 98.6 for millennia or so and that playground takes on the aspect of a universe.

Gentle bolts of aurora borealis attract attention.  There’s a choir over there, and look, Chopin just lit up to our left.  They are vastly too numerous to follow as individuals in a short lifetime.  Most of us just try to absorb some of it and then offer others a hopefully distilled portion as payment in kind.  Surprising musicians are everywhere. The very, very best guitar player I ever knew is out there; still sitting in a basement back east creating  an absolutely stunning tone through  touch and insight.

Bach might be the ionosphere that an aspiring musician should penetrate as deeply as possible in order to attain heightened awareness.  You know he still sits there today exactly as he did when he was three, inventing something on the organ and eternally willing to sit down next to you for a marvelous lesson in harmony.  Each Chorale is a treatise on the musically possible.

I sometimes think Debussy speaks sadly about the limits of humanity.  He wishes all things could be as beautiful as the world of music. It breaks your heart.  Just offhand I can name two of his works in which the melody ends with a simple descending passage of so  fa  me  re  do; the last vocalized measure of “Invocation” (for men’s choir and orchestra) and “The Little Shepherd” from Children’s Corner.  Any interested child can find those five notes right to left on a primary colored toy xylophone.  It’s where Debussy guides your spirit with only those primary colors that reveals genius -- the gentle and loving way he touches and tints each of those five notes as they fall into place.

Great thoughts lead to great inventions.

I should think this is true throughout all of the wonderful disciplines life has to offer.       

Michael James has been a professional guitarist and Public School music educator for over forty years